Press Statement: September 9, 2020
Union Event Addresses National and Campus Issues of Racial Inequality and Violence
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Members of the Rutgers University community came together Tuesday evening, September 8, for a discussion of racial inequality and violence, during a virtual speakout sponsored by Rutgers AAUP-AFT, the union representing full-time faculty, graduate workers, Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) counselors, and postdocs.
The speakout, cohosted by faculty members Donna Murch and Chenjerai Kumanyika, included other distinguished faculty from throughout the university; current and former students; counselors of the Rutgers Educational Opportunity Fund as well as graduates of the support program for underrepresented students; and others.
Murch, an associate professor of History and cochair of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT People of Color Caucus, kicked off the speakout by noting the vast scale of the Black Lives Matter protests, which have taken place in 40 percent of US counties. “We are witnessing and taking part in the largest protest movement in American history if you count the total numbers of people going out onto the streets,” she said.
“For the first time in my life, I’m hearing the words ‘structural racism’ and ‘defund the police’ used by television announcers—this is something that I never thought that I would hear. Prison abolition demands have begun to win widespread support, and we are all reminded once again that change always comes from below, through mass action, organizing, and protest.”
Kumanyika, a Peabody Award winner and assistant professor of Journalism and Media Studies, turned the attention to what faculty and students can do at Rutgers. “All of us are called to challenge our organizations,” he said. “If the most vulnerable people are on the front lines, we too have to be on the front lines challenging our own organization, whose reach is deep in our communities and which affects the world.”
Held on Zoom and broadcast on the union’s Facebook page to well over 1,500 viewers, the speakout was organized in conjunction with the nationwide #ScholarStrike, a call to action for academic workers to stand for racial justice on September 8–9. The #ScholarStrike was inspired by the actions of professional athletes refusing to play following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the killing of antiracist protesters.
Tiana Youngblood, a Rutgers senior and Student Affairs co-chair of the Rutgers University Student Assembly, talked about the impact of the Movement for Black Lives on her personally. “This moment means that I finally have the chance to speak instead of being spoken for,” she said.
“This is for all of the times that I was the only Black kid in class,” Youngblood concluded. “This is for all the people who didn’t think I was going to make it. This is my shoutout for all the times that I felt like I had to be silent. This hashtag, this movement, and this moment signifies the exact time where I felt like I finally mattered.”
Rutgers AAUP-AFT President Todd Wolfson connected the battle to reverse the more than 1,000 layoffs that have taken place at Rutgers since the spring with the wider meaning of the Movement for Black Lives.
“The layoffs at Rutgers and the mishandling of the pandemic by the previous administration is an issue of racial justice, and the fight of our local and of the Coalition of Rutgers Unions to demand the university rescind the layoffs is part of a vision for a university that prioritizes all members of its community,” Wolfson said.
“We can’t stand together to advance a better future for us all unless we take up the problems that impact only some of us. There’s an old union adage: an injury to one is an injury to all, and that remains true today. I am inspired today by the multiracial protests against structural racism and police violence that have rocked this country over the last few months. The labor movement must learn from these protests.”
The Scholar Strike continued into a second day on Wednesday, September 9. It initially grew out of a social media discussion to involve thousands around the country in a national online teach-in and other activities. Organizers of the #ScholarStrike emphasized that the event was a call for many forms of action, including individual faculty withholding their labor, but not only that.
Murch sounded a note of hope at the speakout. “We have our hands full,” she said. “But it is the optimism and possibility of this moment that has inspired us to organize this speakout. We have a unique opportunity to change this country, as well as its institutions and the places we call home.
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